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Cruise line to continue paying commissions

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Cruise line to continue paying commissions for alcohol sales

by Simon Lauder, The World Today

Despite damaging revelations about P&O during the inquest into Dianne Brimble's death, the cruise ship company says it will continue paying its bar staff a commission on drink sales.

It is a policy that on Australian soil would break laws covering the responsible service of alcohol.

But P&O says a policy which encourages bar staff to push drinks to passengers is common practice in the cruise ship industry.

The inquest into the death of Mrs Brimble raised observations of a culture of heavy drinking on board P&O cruise ships.

The Brisbane woman died with a toxic combination of alcohol and the illegal drug GHB in her stomach.

Staff are told not to get in the way of passengers having a good time and now it has been revealed staff are rewarded for every drink they sell.

A spokesman for P&O says the company abides by NSW policies on the responsible service of alcohol, but it does not have to.

And he does not believe paying all bar staff a proportion of total bar takings encourages excessive drinking.

'Absolutely appalling'

Australian Drug Foundation chief executive Bill Stronach disagrees.

"I think it's absolutely appalling, and potentially extremely dangerous," he said.

"Giving commissions to people behind the bar defies all responsible serving of alcohol principles."

Mr Stronach says the practice is dangerous because it provides an incentive to get patrons as intoxicated as possible.

"And we know that intoxicated people are likely to come to some harm," he said.

"It may be physical, they may become ill and they could ultimately lapse into a coma, or worse.

"But we also know that intoxicated people get into fights, they have accidents and so on, and intoxication and bad outcomes go together."

He says P&O is morally, if not legally responsible for the harmful outcomes that follow from intoxication on board its ships.

"Apart from anything else, I think it's a safety issue, and they've got clients on a boat, no different from clients in a hotel and you're not allowed to serve intoxicated people within hotels," he said.

"And if they come to grief there have been court cases both here and particularly overseas, where the licensees and the owners, etcetera, have been sued successfully."


But a London-registered ship leaving Sydney could come under a number of jurisdictions, in theory.

The Pacific Sky cruise of September 2002 would have sailed out of New South Wales jurisdiction by nightfall.

Monash University maritime law expert Eric Wilson says in practice no one is playing an active law enforcement role, from any jurisdiction.

"The British, I would argue, on basis of registration of ship owner and registration of vessel, the Australian Government on the basis of the nationality of the victim and/or the nationality of the perpetrators," he said.

Dr Wilson says there is no clear-cut law enforcement agency.

"I think the problem would be, would the state of Great Britain, or would the state of Australia be the state that reserves itself the right [of] ... engaging in criminal prosecution," he said.

"And on the other hand, there's nothing to exclude, on the face of it, as I'm familiar with the facts, either state or even both states, from still prosecuting."

He says the company could still mount a challenge over a state's jurisdiction to prosecute.

"For example, if Australia sought to prosecute the P&O line, the P&O could claim defence under the territorial principle and vice versa," he said.

"So I think both the Australian and the British Governments would have to be very careful in the way that they phrase the issue and the law that they sought to actually have applied to the case as it stands."

Dr Wilson says the Australian Government could still take action against cruise ship companies, under a principle in international law called the negative effects doctrine.

But it would have to actively intervene in each case.

"It is in fact possible, in principle, for the Australian Government to so act," he said.

In the meantime, there is no real incentive for cruise ship companies to stop paying staff extra for selling more alcohol and a spokesman for P&O says the company has no intention of doing so.

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